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The Road to the 19th Amendment

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Photography by Christopher Smith

UNLV history professor Joanne Goodwin

On an early-March morning, a hundred or so women and a few men formed a congenial cluster on the plaza next to the Historic Fifth Street School. At a table, Girl Scouts from Troop 312 offered complimentary Trefoils arranged in neat rows. Few people availed themselves of the cookies, but lots wore hats — not to keep the sun off their necks, though that was a bonus. The headgear mainly served to top off their early 20th-century suffragette costumes. The crowd was there for the unveiling of a historic marker commemorating the 19th Amendment, which guarantees women’s right to vote and was passed into law 100 years ago. The marker is the third of five being placed at sites around Nevada where suffragettes made significant efforts leading to the amendment’s passage. It’s all part of the National Votes for Women Trail, a project of the nonprofit National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites.

Vicki Lambert (on the left, with Lynda Foster) was one of many members of the Mesquite Club, the hub of Southern Nevada’s suffrage movement, at the event. She described the movement’s unexpected effect on her family: “My grandmother was born and raised in Brooklyn. And when she became old enough to get involved in politics, she started marching in Brooklyn for women's right to vote. And she worked 12, 14, 16 hours a day in what we'd call a sweatshop, making garments in Brooklyn. She called it a job and food on the table. And she got arrested one day, and the cop that arrested her turned out to be, by family lore, my grandfather.”

In addition to providing the family with a co-progenitor, the suffrage movement also inspired a long line of devoted voters, Lambert said, noting that every generation since her grandmother has taught its daughters the importance of casting a ballot.

That ballot will not be cast for a woman, since the last contender of the gender, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, departed the presidential race, in an unfortunate coincidence, the week of both the marker dedication in Las Vegas and International Women’s Day.

“Our future is bright, and we will have a female president someday,” said Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz (far right, with Joanne Goodwin and Nevada Secretary of state Barbara Cegavsky), whose ward includes the site of the historic marker, as well as the Mesquite Club. Turning to the Girl Scouts present, she added, “Don’t get discouraged.”

There was zero discouragement in the attitude of Amelia Oxley, a Troop 312 member who attended the event with her parents and conveyed the enthusiasm expected of a kid skipping school to hang out with her friends.

“I think it’s great to have women vote,” Oxley said, “very nice,” adding that it’s something her mother, Sharean Oxley, never fails to do.

“I decided it was worth it to take her out of school to experience the commemoration of the new historical marker,” Sharean said. Amelia just turned 7, so she doesn't quite understand exactly what it means, but we talked a lot about the struggle that women have had throughout the years to try to get the right to vote, and she's really enchanted by that.”

Damien Oxley, Amelia’s dad (right, with Amelia and Sharean), said he was proud to support not only his wife and daughter, but anybody who’s part of the endeavor. In that, he echoed the sentiments of UNLV history professor Joanne Goodwin, the brains behind the day’s festivities. 

“Men and women need to work to improve the lives of everyone who comes after us,” Goodwin said. Having noted that communities of color didn’t see the right guaranteed by the 19th Amendment until several decades after its passage, her message was clear.

“We have to make all our governing bodies representative of who we are,” she said.

Invoking Nevada’s female-majority state legislature, the first of its kind, she and other speakers repeated this goal — more diversity, more accurate representation — one that will have to wait, in the country’s highest office anyway, for at least four more years. 

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